How to Care for Your New Puppy

How to Potty Train a Puppy

A puppy on a leash being walked down a path
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A new puppy brings great joy, but potty training puppies can lead to frustration. Puppy potty accidents start your relationship off on the wrong paw. Without the right training, he won't know how to please you.

Dogs can be potty trained at any age, but puppies learn much more quickly than adults. Puppies are so cute that owners forgive puppy-size accidents, but adult-size deposits aren't cute and often lose the grown-up pet his home. Use these 8 puppy potty training tips to housebreak puppies and ensure he grows up to be the best friend he's meant to be.

How to House Train Puppies

Think of potty training from your puppy's point of view. When he has to go he won't wait -- he simply squats in place. He won't understand why you're always upset when you come home. If he's punished but not shown what you want, he'll think you don't want him to potty at all. Rubbing his nose in it will only confuse him (imagine your puppy wondering, "She wants me to eat that stuff?"). In short, punishing teaches puppies to potty when you're not watching or to hide deposits more carefully.​

Catch Him in the Act

Timing is key when teaching cause and effect. He won't understand your anger has anything to do with the deposit he created five minutes ago. Unless caught in the act or pointed out within 30-90 seconds, correcting the baby won't work.

Instead, catch the pup in the act -- of doing something right. Then throw a happy-dance praise party to tell him how smart he is! People are more motivated to work for a bonus than a threat of reprimand, and dogs are no different. Once he learns he gets paid to go in the right spot -- a.k.a. positive reinforcement --he'll virtually cross his legs to please you.

Age Matters

Pups need a bathroom break after every meal, nap, and playtime. Depending on his age and breed, he'll be fed two to four or more times a day. Prevent potty accidents by anticipating when the puppy needs a break.

Your pup has a baby-size bladder and a limited capacity to "hold it" no matter his best intentions. Every pup is an individual, but in general, a two-month-old puppy needs a break about every two hours. At three months, every four hours should be adequate. And yes, that means potty breaks in the middle of the night, too.

How Long Can He "Hold It?"

Rather than guess at your pup's capacity, use these guidelines to anticipate his needs. That way, you can schedule his potty breaks and give him every opportunity to do the right thing. It can vary a bit between breeds, with large and giant breeds having a bit more "storage" capacity and toy breeds a bit less. But in general, here's what to expect:

  • Four-month-old pups can wait five hours
  • Five-month-olds can wait about six hours
  • Seven-month-old pups should be able to wait about eight hours.

8 Puppy Potty Training Steps

  1. Create a schedule. Base potty breaks on the pup's age, activity level, and mealtimes.
  2. Choose a location. Dogs rely on scent cues to remind them what's expected. Whether you create an indoor toilet spot with newspaper, pee-pads, or a doggy litter box, or select an outdoor potty, take him to the same place each time.
  3. Concentrate on business. Keep him on a leash until he's productive, or he'll only play and then have an accident inside. Take off the leash for playtime as part of his reward for eliminating.
  4. Name the deed. When he squats, say a cue word that identifies the action. My dog knows "take a break" means to get down to business, while some folks use "hurry up" or "potty." Make sure your entire family uses the selected cue consistently. Once the puppy has been productive, reward with lots of praise, play or a tiny treat that doesn't upset his regular nutrition.
  5. Confine and supervise. Puppies don't want to live up close and personal with their own waste, so confinement can be a great tool to teach a quick lesson. A small room won't work -- he can poop in one corner and sleep in the other. If the pup isn't productive after fifteen minutes during a potty break, confine in a crate for fifteen minutes and then try again. If he potties in the crate, that confines the mess to an easily cleaned area. He'll have to live with his mistake for a short time. The next time he'll be more likely to empty when offered the opportunity. Alternatively, hook his leash to your belt so he can't sneak away and do the dirty deed.
  1. Watch for warnings. Puppies sniff the ground and walk in circles before they pose. If he squats inside, pick him up, so he stops the process, and move him to the designated legal toilet area. Give your cue word, and praise when he's successful in the right spot.
  2. Clean accidents. Use an odor neutralizer to eliminate the smells that lure your puppy back to the scene of the crime.
  3. Roll up the newspaper. When you find an accident, it means you've not paid attention to his needs. If you're feeling aggravated, don't hold back. Roll up that newspaper -- and hit yourself over the head with it, and resolve to do better next time. Just like puppies, owners take time and patience to learn important lessons.